What even is YA?

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Eh- that’s a tough one.

There are all sorts of things that can go into a YA book: coming of age stories, themes around “firsts” and a heightened sense of emotion to name a few. One thing’s for certain- it has to be about *teens*. And not just people that start out as teens and then grow up, like in Assassin’s Apprentice, the protagonist should start and end a teenager for it to really fit in this category.

And I say category, because as Alexa Donne points out in her very comprehensive video on the topic, it’s more of a marketing category than a genre. Which means: anything goes. It’s the wild-west of the publishing industry these days (that ironically doesn’t put out many westerns 😉 )

Because of all this, there have been many instances of missmarketing. I could probably fill a post on the books that have somehow ended up in this category, even though they don’t belong, but here’s just a few:

Now, while a little part of me wants to be cynical and say this is a cash grab, the reality is a lot of teens enjoy this content. As a teen, I personally liked reading books that pushed boundaries and explored darker topics. I’d have most likely been insulted if you told me a book like, say the Book Thief, was technically not aimed at me and therefore off limits (and I’d have definitely read it anyway 😉 ).

Perhaps it is a reflection of this that YA has increasingly been exploring taboo topics.  For better or worse, younger readers have access to books with, dare I say, adult content. Books like A Court of Thorns and Roses is a great example of this- because it was written for adults and yet often mistaken for YA (in fact, I have never seen this book in any part of a library or shop that wasn’t the YA section!) Part of this is thanks to the failure of NA taking off (more for the industry than readers). But a larger part seems to be that the question of what’s appropriate for children has blurred beyond recognition- to the point where many can’t see the line between adult and young adult content anymore.

And while it can be a good thing that adults are buying YA- the expanding market means more books, more bookish industries and more opportunities for authors- it also means that they are the ones driving the market in this direction. Sales, after all, dramatically effect which books publishers choose to put out. This raises all sorts of issues- not least the continuing of this *I have no idea what YA even is anymore* trend.

So, with all that’s said and done, is the term becoming defunct? 

Well obviously not. As much as there have been discussions about the YA genre not doing as well last year, I don’t believe this is because the massive market that exists has gone anywhere (I have my own theories). This isn’t me saying it’s “too big to fail”- it’s merely acknowledging the fact that there will always be a market for high stake drama, with teens at the forefront, exploring the world with fresh eyes. And these are all aspects that this “genre” has in spades. It is also why adults and teens alike will continue to gravitate towards YA no matter what name you give it.

That was rather inconclusive. Looks like I did this whole post just to say who gives a monkeys about genre classifications 😉 In all seriousness, what does the term YA mean to you? Are you a fan of YA? Let me know in the comments!

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In Defence of Fairy Tales: Why I *LOVE* Them

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It’s become a pretty common phenomenon to see fairy tales maligned in media. And, as you might have guessed from the title, I’m actually a fan. So that’s why I’ll be donning my warrior garb today, vaulting up a tower and springing to the rescue of this poor damsel in distress!

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Okay, maybe this won’t be quite that dramatic 😉 Now, obviously I want to make it clear (for all the people in the back) that this isn’t a defence of every story, iteration or idea in fairy tales- but of the overarching themes and genre as a whole. Nor am I pretending that the context of the stories being formulated or written down was a grand old time. I know this may be a little headspinning, but I’m genuinely not trying to take a broadbrush positive view to counterbalance the prevailing negative opinions- I’m simply trying to show how there’s a little more complexity to be had here. Without further ado, let’s get into why fairy tales rock:

They’re full of possibilities. Fairy tales aren’t nearly as straightforward as a lot of people seem to believe- they’re a mosaic of views and symbols that welcome multiple interpretations. While I largely disagree with some modern takes on fairy tales- and the holders of those beliefs no doubt disagree with me- it nonetheless proves my point: two people can easily read the same story and come out with wildly different readings. I would love it if more people that criticise fairy tales thought to themselves how else could this be interpreted? Because the mistake a lot of people that are dismissive of fairy tales make is that there’s *one* correct analysis- and this simply isn’t true.

There’s actually more than enough room for imagination when reading fairy tales. A lot of the time, they’re simplified to the point where they leave us with lots of questions- oftentimes leaving them unanswered. Again, I see people filling in the blanks, all the while not realising that they’re contributing to the tradition of orality and retelling that goes into making these stories (ooh err, getting very Death of the Author-y up in here- shout out to my English Lit homies 😉 ). These stories aren’t static; they’re constantly growing beyond the bounds of the page. Not to be too grim, but Hansel and Gretel may “live together in perfect harmony” (with the father who had “not had a happy hour since the day he had abandoned his children”), yet in this world of fairy tales happiness has already been shown to be fleeting. At the same time, there’s always the Gilbert and Gubar view that the hero inevitably morphs into the villain- hence showing that we create more than one meaning out of these stories. Thanks to their open-endedness, fairy tales are constantly being reimagined in our own minds- it’s our decision whether we see them as monstrous or not.

Fairy tales also present stories in their simplest form– and there’s always something to be said for the basic story structure. Still, while there’s an argument to be made that the traditional good vs evil dichotomy is a strong premise, fairy tales are often harder to pin down on closer examination. Take the story of Bluebeard: an evil husband that keeps killing his wives when they discover he’s a murderer. Supposedly designed to teach women to curb their curiosity, it nonetheless provides justification for the wife’s curiosity when he’s proven to be a murderer (and since murdering your wife wasn’t socially acceptable in Perrault’s day, one can assume this was as baffling then as it is now). Ergo, as much as one could claim fairy tales smack the reader over the head with their blatant morality, the problem is they often undermine themselves with their own complexity. The messages they entail may not be as rigid as first presumed.

That’s why they’re often viewed as educational for children. Some stories, like Little Red Riding Hood offer warnings at their most basic level, like “maybe don’t trust that dodgy stranger in the wood”. This in turn lends credence to Marina Warner and Karen Rowe’s views that these “old wives tales”, though written down by men, may have been composed for women by women. Furthermore, facing down these dangers in a safe environment could be seen as a positive exploration of a child’s psyche- indeed critics such as Bettelheim have argued this is crucial to a child’s development. As primordial narratives, the core of these tales often reflects on deeply embedded emotional struggles and makes sense out of the chaotic world. For that reason…

…they’re also suitable for adults 😉 All this, for me, goes back to how fairy tales run much deeper than many people realise. Again, I’m not saying there aren’t fairy tales that are as dodgy as hell (hello Basile’s Sleeping Beauty- yes I know someone’s going to refer to that). BUT that doesn’t mean it’s wise to dismiss such complex stories or reduce them down to terms and ideas that don’t necessarily hold up under scrutiny. As fashionable as it is to bash fairy tales, I can’t help but wonder where we would be without them.

And for once I have a (lazy) bibliography:

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York, W. W. Norton and Company: 1322-1326

Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Struggle for Meaning”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 269-273. Print.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. “Snow White and Her Wicked Stepmother”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 291-297. Print.

Rowe, Karen. “To Spin a Yarn”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 297-308. Print.

Warner, Marina. “The Old Wives’ Tale”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 309-317. Print.

So- dare I ask- do you have any love for fairy tales? Let me know in the comments!

There is always room for lighter books

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A while back I wrote a post about the need for darkness in books. It’s a topic I have a lot of passion for as I’ve always hunger more for edgier reads. Not everyone agrees with me on that front (and that’s fine) so much so that I often see concerted efforts to sanitise books (which is not so fine)- hence my writing the “darkness” piece in the first place. That said, just because I want to preserve the murkier stories doesn’t mean I dislike cheerier works. In fact, I think the more the merrier! So let’s get into why lighter books are awesome:

laughter is the best medicineLaughter is the best medicine– yes, it may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. In fact, one of my motivating factors to get this blog started was to have a laugh (sometimes at a book’s expense 😉 ). In all seriousness, I started this blog to revel in the JOY of reading and, as many of you can probably tell from my blog name, I was hugely inspired by Pratchett- the comic-fantasy master- and I certainly don’t read his work to be miserable 😉

otters holding handsAnd don’t we want to bask in some positivity from time to time? You know you do- I see you checking out puppy pics on twitter and sharing pictures of otters holding hands and enjoying the rare occasion when there’s a happy news story on TV. There’s a reason cat videos took off on youtube- cos cats are awesome and SECRETLY TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD ;). *Ahem*- just kidding- it’s because there’s a market for it.

dragon gifPlus, books aren’t just supposed to be about reality- they’re for escapism. Reading books is like hopping on a dragon to another world and taking a break from our lives. Given how dark everything can be nowadays, it can be a relief.

chill slothAt the same time, joyful books can be very real. Not everything has to be doom and gloom (I know, shocker, the real world is not so scary- at least not all the time 😉 ). Sometimes it’s nice to just chill out and think of the happier side of life.

 

because i'm happyAnd it’s not like whether a book is light or dark speaks to its quality. I’ve read my share of melodramatic bilge; I’ve also read my fair amount of delectable fluff. Whether it’s romantic or humorous or simply informative- a book doesn’t have to be grim in order to be brilliant. Even going by my ratings (and as I said earlier I lean more towards the dark side) I give out more than enough bananas for books that bring me pure pleasure.

Plus- and I’m gonna be brutally honest here- the idea you have to suffer for your art is pretty toxic. I have unfortunately met people in real life that think they have to be miserable for the sake of art. Now, do not misunderstand me: I think it’s really important people write from experience and are not guilted out of it AND I also believe people should let their imaginations run wild if they want to write something darker that they haven’t experienced. BUT I also feel like if you haven’t had the experience to write tastesomething messed up, you should know that you don’t have to put yourself through the wringer in order to be successful. Aside from the fact I’m a firm believer that everyone has something to draw on, my response to people struggling with this myth is consider writing something happy. To end on a similar note as my darkness in books piece: it’s all about balance and taste. There is no right or wrong here. The truth is, there’s space for sweet, salty and maybe even a little spice. Whatever flavour you choose is upto you 😉 And really, there’s no reason we can’t all be satisfied…

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So do you agree or disagree with me here? And do you have a particular preference for dark or light books? Let me know in the comments!

STRONG female characters, Mary Sues and Manic Pixie Dream Girls… What the Heck is up with Female Characters in Books!?

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Hello all! So as you guys may know I was reading Kingdom of Ash recently. As the final book in a l-o-n-g series, you’d expect there to be some changes from the original works, and that’s fair enough. But there was one tiny issue that bugged me: most of the female characters had become warriors (though #notall). Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good kickass heroine and I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination dislike this book. Yet there were two things that struck me with this decision: a) Celaena, as she was originally known, stood out less than she had in previous books (where she’d been an exception to the rule in a world where there seemed to be few female fighters) and b) it kind of leans in to the idea that women *have to* be more masculine in order to be considered strong women.

Time and again, I’m finding that female characters are being type cast into the “strong” role of warrior. And it doesn’t seem to just be one character- it’s got to be the bulk of them. Regardless of whether the author wants to dress up this character in girly clothes and makeup, I don’t think there’s any denying the fact that their heroism predominately comes from their ability to kick ass and not their penchant for applying lipstick. Often it feels shoehorned in and doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of the character (like Clary in Mortal Instruments, who already had killer powers). It also doesn’t seem to matter if the world obeys the laws of earthly biology or not- it seems to be something we have to accept the predominance of the warrior woman in the large bulk of genre fiction (especially fantasy/sci fi, but even in historical fiction as well). Unfortunately this mentality seems to bleed into real life- I can’t tell you how many times (mostly male/female feminists) have criticised me for not being physically strong. Because, in case you didn’t know, I’m a regular girly monkey who doesn’t have the superhuman ability to kick butt.

orangutan in dress

Guess I’ll just use any excuse to get dressed up 😉

Evidently, I’m not crazy about this trend for many reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Buffy growing up and like the occasional Wonder Woman style heroine. I also think this can really work in the fantasy genre- such as with characters like Nona from Red Sister, who come across as representations of shadow and myth. HOWEVER, I don’t recall it being the case that these were the *main* and *only* kind of female characters. Even when it came to Buffy, there were a bunch of other roles fulfilled by female characters. And thank goodness for that- because Buffy wasn’t the character I gravitated towards anyway! I’ll let you in on a not-so-surreptitiously held secret: I always identified the most with adorkable-brainy-oddball Willow- cos that’s who I found relatable. And this is a bit of a trend for me. While Tamora Pierce is famous for her Lioness character, I fell in love with Daine from Wild Magic. I adored the heroines in books by Eva Ibbotson- who never went raging to war but were fearless nonetheless. And I know that a few of the heroines in Game of Thrones fall into this super strong type- yet I love the series because it plays with every type it introduces and never presents a singular view of people.

A lot of the reasons this arose in the first place was a desire to challenge the status quo, to create something different and be appealing to a wider audience. And yet it’s not relatable; and somehow it has become a type. Regardless of whether they wear dresses or not, this STRONG female character is close to becoming a caricature just like any other irritatingly unrealistic representation. Many might have heard of terms like Mary Sue and Manic Pixie Dream girls getting (over)used all over the internet. What I understand about people that have problems with both of these, is that it’s irritating to see so many poorly conceived female characters. Naturally, these don’t simply apply to female characters- there’s always the people who shout “sexist” first and ask questions later (fyi for all those offended by the term Mary Sue, Marty Stus are a thing as well). And of course sometimes the criticism can be unearned- such as the infamous example of 500 Days of Summer using the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope… when it’s actually a deconstruction of that idea. Also, naturally, as in the case of unfinished or contentious works, these terms can be open to debate (as much as I’d like to insist that Rae from Star Wars is 100% a Mary Sue). So, whether in reading or writing, I think it’s good to be careful how we apply these terms- because boy is it frustrating to see characters reduced to nothing more than a trope.

If I was a lonely voice in the crowd, one could say I was a random butthurt woman (or “wahmen” 😉 ) blowing things out of proportion. Yet, I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks this way. In recent years, I’ve seen amazing articles from fellow readers like the lovely Kelly over at Another Book in the Wall, and videos from the likes of the Authentic Observer and even Jordan Harvey on similar topics. I know there are so many more- so forgive me if I left any obvious ones out. Point is: perhaps the zeitgeist of public opinion is changing. Maybe, just maybe when people were crying out for different types of female characters, they weren’t looking to be type-cast into yet another role. All I have ever wanted in fiction is believable, interesting and realistic characters. Wielding a sword is optional.

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Hope you didn’t mind my somewhat rambly thoughts- I just wanted to get all this off my chest. What do you think about this trend? How do you like your female characters? Let me know in the comments!

The Exciting Prospect of Failure

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Hello all! Hope you’re having a great Sunday! I just wanted to do a quick personal post today where I talk about how my not-quite-Nano writing month went. Despite my title, I didn’t actually fail with my goal this year. In fact, I exceeded it. I managed to do 10/12 of my planned chapters- and even polished off another chapter yesterday… which brought my WIP to (hopefully) an explosive end.

happy-runningTo give this WIP a little background, it’s taken 8 years since I came up with the idea to come to this point where I now feel like I have a complete story. To put that in context of what it means to me, well, this is not only the last book in a trilogy, but also my sixth manuscript to date. So as you can imagine I’m feeling a lot of *feels* right now: liable to burst out in a happy dance at any moment, mildly shell shocked (that finale was not sunshine and rainbows and kittens, in case you’re wondering), but mostly optimistically nervous about what comes next.

Because, of course, it’s not over. As you’d expect from a first draft, there’s quite a way to go- fragments of the story I forgot to tell and new bits of the narrative to articulate. Before I started on this book, I knew there were issues with the series I wanted to tease out, but while I was writing I discovered sneaky little plot points that really needed my immediate attention. But I couldn’t exactly turn around and fix them- I knew I had to finish what I’d started first.

train crashIt’s an interesting experience to know that you’re working on something that’s gonna need an overhaul. Especially as a compulsive editor like me. Usually flaws like these would make me want to stop what I’m doing there and then. I’m certainly no stranger to hacking away at a manuscript until it feels a little closer to right. But this was like deliberately driving a runaway train into a ravine- with one eye on the prize and one gazing wistfully back at the start and knowing it could all be somewhat more spectacular (and yes, the runaway train metaphor is definitely what I’m  going for- my characters are total trainwrecks and the outcome of their actions is a complete disaster 😉 ).

The strange part of all this was that- even though I knew I was writing something that would inevitably have to change- I wasn’t deterred or put off. In fact, the prospect motivated me. Last year I talked a little about how failing is when you learn the most– and this year I realised it’s more than that. It’s the mistakes that keep you going. I’m looking forward to rectifying all the kinks and details I got wrong and I can’t wait to implement all the thrilling modifications I’ve come up with. Striving for something better is what keeps me on the edge of my seat when it comes to this story; it’s what makes me want to forge ahead with all the new ideas I have for the future. That’s just one of the great things about writing I guess: there’s always something new to explore, even in old worlds. Although, I’ll admit, right now I’m going to shove said manuscript in a drawer and not think about it (much) for about a month.

And that, folks, is a wrap! So did you participate in Nano this month or in years gone by? And if you write, what gets you motivated to write more? Let me know in the comments!

For Goodness Sake: Stop Blaming the Consumer!

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So way back in the summer, I saw an article that kind of bugged me. The gist of the piece was that author Howard Jacobson believed that when it came down to literary fiction sales “the problem is the reader”. His argument essentially boiled down to blaming limited attention spans and the consequent need to coerce readers to try more “serious” works.

Aside from the blatant genre snobbery, it will probably come as no surprise that I don’t believe Jacobson is on the right track. Saying that the “novel is in good health” doesn’t make it so. At random I can take a popular genre author like Steven King or Sarah J Maas, have a peek at their ratings on Goodreads and find it’s usually above 3.5 (often above 4 and as high as 4.69 for Maas), whereas a literary author like Jacobson will typically get below 3.5 (some as low as 2.67 at the time of writing). Now ratings aren’t everything, but this doesn’t bode well, especially when you consider the downward trend of sales. One can fairly deduce that people buying the books aren’t satisfied and won’t be repeat readers- which creates an unsustainable business model and suggests a deeper flaw with literary fiction. Remember, these were the people that invested time and money into the book, ergo don’t classify as the so-called lazy readers that won’t touch the stuff (those that might have “lazily” researched the book, its ratings and reviews, and decided they’d rather waste their time with a hefty tome that seems to be doing better).

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Moreover, the article largely overlooks some vital information. Evidence is that people are reading more, not less (opinions are varied on this, but for instance, this helpful infographic for the US shows how reading was looking like a pretty healthy habit in 2017). We also live in a world where more people are educated than ever before (again, a complex issue, but we’re generally looking at an upward trend in literacy rates). Challenging books, like classics, continue to be explored in the classroom (though of course, this could be promoted further). And, contrary to what genre snobs believe, plenty of books that are not literary fiction involve complex settings, concepts and characters (it seems daft to claim genre superiority in the face of fantasy/sci fi/dystopia, where a great deal of thought has gone into constructing an entire world from scratch). I also disagree with the idea wholeheartedly that a book has to be hard to read (or as Jacobson says “If you read me, you’re going to want to put me down”) in order to be worthwhile. There’s no reason why compulsive reading and concentration cannot go hand in hand. I personally found War and Peace quite the page turner.

Clearly, I think there are other issues at play (aka a flaw with the books themselves), however my problems with the article goes beyond that. Increasingly, I see this trend of “oh you don’t like such-and-such, you must be an *insert insult*” on the rise everywhere. Most notably, it’s taken the big and small screen sectors by storm. Don’t like the new Doctor Who? You must be sexist! Not a fan of the direction Star Wars has taken? BIGOT! While naturally you’re entitled to your own opinions on this and at the risk of starting a FLAME-THROWING-RAGE-FEST in the comments, I am not a fan of what has been done to these franchises- which apparently makes me evil or whatever. Lest we forget:

everyone i don't like is hitler

Now, being the sort of person that will just take my attention and money somewhere else, my opinion shouldn’t really matter all that much. BUT there’s something that has been done with these franchises that pisses me off no end- the fact that a lot of these constant attacks on the consumer are coming from the creators themselves. It’s almost becoming expected for there to be many, many hit pieces on fans from journalists and creators alike. Squabbles among fans are one thing; creators bashing their audience are another. I shouldn’t have to point out why this is a dumb idea- BECAUSE DUH! Why on earth OR in a galaxy far far away would anyone think it’s a good idea to go after the people with the wallets?! This not only makes the creator seem arrogant and out of touch, it seems delusional to me to expect people you’re bashing to part with their money. At the same time, it comes across as an abuse of power- using their position to “punch down” at those they ironically believe they’re punching up at (because yes, an actor/writer/producer/director in Hollywood has more power than your average Joe Schmo on twitter- a fact they simultaneously revel in and contradict with claims about power dynamics… *facepalm*).

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So to return to the original premise of this post: readers are not the problem, out of touch creators are. It doesn’t really matter if Jacobson believes people are too stupid and lazy to his read his books- it matters that any author would be foolish enough to think patronising their potential audience is the way to go. Not only will this not boost sales, it will alienate them for a lifetime. Literary fiction’s lack of popularity can be explained by an authorship that would hold haughty opinions such as these. If these are the kinds of people writing the books, no wonder people don’t want to read them. This unrelatability and pretentiousness might simply be translating into the work and distance the reader from it.

This of course is speculation- I wouldn’t presume to suggest this is the case with all literary fiction and am not trying to tarnish any other writers here. My point is that this attack on readership will not get anyone anywhere. I hate the spread of hostility towards consumers in general and really don’t want to see it infesting into the bookish world. As a reviewer, I’m used to people taking issue with the concepts of reviews– yet upping the ante to critique all readers that don’t engage with/like your work is far worse. I recently discovered a great piece of advice over on Alex’s blog which tied in nicely- consider following Franzen’s rule instead:

“The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.”

So do you agree or disagree? Are readers the problem? Let me know in the comments!

Why can’t characters just be evil?

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In recent years, there’s been a concerted effort made to humanise evil. Through the rise of anti-hero stories, we seem to put violence on a pedestal, to worship the wicked and praise perversion… Or do we?

nearly got everything peaky blindersYes, there has been more and more of an interest in anti-heroes of late- but when we explore these topics, like in the spate of gangster stories we put on our screens, we still are fully aware that these characters are doing bad things. Indeed, it’s almost written into the formula- if the protagonist seems to be reluctant to engage in misdemeanours, the writers shake up their lives, throw them for a loop and *bam* they’re committing atrocities again. We know full well they’re the bad guy in the story- anti-heroes are just villains in the role of the hero after all- and we’re on board with that.

So does this mean we think evil doesn’t exist? Well, I can’t speak for everybody, but it’s like I said, we’re conscious of this character’s role in the story. Indeed, I’ve often been disappointed by an anti-heroes that fail to do their job properly. Take the example of Maleficent. Now, I’ve got nothing against the film and I get it was made for kids, yet many will agree that it fell short of the mark- chiefly for failing to make the villainess truly malevolent. It’s very notable that the biggest change from Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty is that she doesn’t want to kill the girl here, only send her into a cursed sleep. And it was this reluctance by the writers for her to go fully dark that meant this unforgettable villain lost her menace and consequently michael corleone godfatherthat the message revolving round the impact of human cruelty was never properly realised. For me, it would have succeeded if it had got the Michael Corleone balancing act from the Godfather right- sure, make the protagonist  understandable, but don’t lose sight of the fact they’re the bad guy!

aslanThe fact we want them to fully realise that core of evil isn’t to provoke chaos in the real world– no, it’s to identify something far deeper than that. You see, there aren’t many “perfect” characters in the history of literature– well apart from lion Jesus 😉 . Even in the biblical tradition, particularly in the Old Testament, people make errors all the time. Why? Because if the cast of the Bible was littered with only perfect people, there would be nothing to aspire to and no mistakes to learn from. We are drawn to complexity. No character can be wholly good, just as no character can be entirely evil.

And this is why we love anti-heroes so much. It’s not because we reject the idea that evil exists. It’s because we get that we have a lot to learn. And sometimes you can learn things from the dark side- the clinical psychologist Dr Peterson often points out that we have to incorporate a little bit of our inner monster in order to succeed: 1) because it’s not heroic to be weak and 2) because we have to be in control of our inner luke skywalkermonster in order to overcome it. That’s why the hero is so often the person that mirrors the villain- they’re the one with the power to defeat the darkness, BUT like Luke Skywalker, they show restraint when it comes to the fight. A hero isn’t someone who’s never tempted- it’s someone who overcomes that temptation. Still- and here’s the kicker- how are we supposed to overcome that inner demon if we don’t understand it? That’s where anti-hero stories come in.

maleficentTo go back to Maleficent, it’s all about trying to puzzle out the causes of evil. Where there was scope in the original was that we didn’t know why the character was evil. While terrifying, Sleeping Beauty Maleficent was never fully developed in terms of what the hell were her motives anyway. Thus here’s the part of the new movie that worked- underneath all her awesome aesthetic, there had to be that pinprick of goodness or she’d continue to come across as a cartoon villain. And, of course, that’s fine- but I think most of us crave a little more complexity.

So I think the real reason a character can’t just be evil is that our hearts rebel against the notion. We barely believe in the Aslans of literature as it is (being lion-Jesus is a little unattainable 😉 ). In the same way a character can’t just be good, we need villains to have a little humanity to work. We’re all a little bit of both after all.

Well, my thoughts got a little rambly there, but what do you think? Where should the line between good and evil be in books? Let me know in the comments!